Article by Brett Keener, The Sentinel
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DILLSBURG — Mechanicsburg took the field Monday with an energy and an effort that called to mind opening day.
In a sense, that’s exactly what it was for the Wildcats.
Mechanicsburg answered its coach’s challenge on a sunny afternoon at Northern High School, where the Wildcats were sharp in all facets of the game in a 2-1 victory over the host Polar Bears in a Mid-Penn crossover game.
The win pushed Mechanicsburg over the .500 mark for the season, but more importantly it put Gail Hiestand’s club at 1-0 after they pushed the restart button following a first half that didn’t measure up to expectations.
“We had some gut-check time over the weekend,” Hiestand said. “Our first half of the season is behind us. We decided to break our season up because we’re .500, and this team should not be .500, but we are. That’s reality. I challenged them to start anew.”
The Wildcats could have made things much easier on themselves — they left 13 runners on base, 10 of those in scoring position — but an ace outing from freshman pitcher Erica Smiley and a strong defensive effort prevented the stranded runners from being too damaging.
“Several of those rallies were two-out rallies, but we weren’t finishing,” Hiestand said. “That’s just a matter of time and of staying positive and confident and trusting your defense. Erica Smiley pitched a great game and this was a total team effort.”
Northern actually struck first. Courtney Keefer recorded an infield hit to lead off the game, and she was brought home three batters later on Rachel Seik’s two-out base knock. Seik’s liner into the right field corner would have been a triple, but Mechanicsburg successfully appealed that Seik did not touch second base.
The Wildcats got the equalizer in the second inning, when Smiley drew a one-out walk and was brought home two batters later on Liz Wilgus’ single up the middle. Mechanicsburg then grabbed a 2-1 lead in the top of the third when Taylor Clark drilled a homer over the fence in left-center.
The remainder of the game followed a pattern. Smiley remained in control against the Northern lineup, while Polar Bear hurler Shanon Ward continually found ways to extricate herself from jams. Mechanicsburg left multiple runners on base in five different innings.
“We dug ourselves a hole just about every inning,” Northern coach Bruce Sheaffer said. “Then we’d turn around and get out of it. Shanon really pitched us out of few jams.”
Smiley, meanwhile, was a bit more relaxed. She cruised through the middle innings, not allowing another hit until there were two outs in the fifth. The freshman struck out five and walked none.
“It was basically my defense,” Smiley said. “There were a lot of nice catches and a lot of nice plays behind me. That was a major help.”
Smiley would need her defense one last time. Northern’s Rachel Hennessey lined a two-out single with a runner on first in the seventh; Mechanicsburg right fielder Rachel Deveney then attempted to throw out Hennessy at first on the hard-hit ball. The throw was mishandled, and Sheaffer sent runner Sierra Van Sickler home. Deveney raced in from the outfield, picked up the ball and fired a perfect strike to catcher Morgan Minter, who tagged out Van Sickler to end the game.